Eerily, I'd headed into the New Year determined to define a clear "2020 Vision" for my life. I had no idea how events were about to unfold over the next 12 months, bringing an unimagined clarity to my values, ambitions, priorities, and aspirations. I only knew I already sensed the beginning of a “stripping away” process, which would open up a whole new world of possibility. This was the start of a season of self-examination, questioning everything... leading to a countercultural, revolutionary, life-changing sense of freedom from expectations, both my own and those of others.
And you know what? The sky's the limit.
Of course, you don’t have time to read about all of the realities dawning, dots connecting, eyes opening, or ah-ha! moments adding up for me through the whole year 2020, so let’s just get to the point. Life is different so far, in these first two and a half months of 2021—and how, building on this past year of “2020 Vision,” I’m seeing a whole new trajectory for life from now on.
The following is based on personal opinions and personal experiences, and should not, under any circumstances, be considered professional investment advice. Always do your own research before making financial decisions. Please note none of my views or opinions are endorsed by any other party mentioned. (I doubt they even know I exist.) On that note, this post contains referral/affiliate links which may save or earn both you and me some moola on products/services, or provide me with a small commission that doesn’t cost you anything, as a way of supporting one another in winning the wealth-building game. Deal?
On January 1st, 2021, I learned about the Stash app for beginner investors, and my life began to change. (You can read “Why I’m Using the Stash App to Begin Investing in the Stock Market” Part I and Part II, plus my “Top 5 Faves About Using the Stash App to Invest” here and here.) It had to be a God thing. I never imagined I’d be setting out this year to learn everything I can get my hands on about stocks, ETFs, REITs, diversification, allocations, portfolio management… who am I kidding? I’m just some small-town South Dakota gal who grew up below the poverty line, living paycheck to paycheck all my life and struggling to make ends meet. I had zero interest in hearing about the stock market. I rolled my eyes any time the topic of investing came up. That stuff’s just for rich people. Right?
Well... what if it’s not? What if I can teach myself everything I need to know to do anything I want, with nothing more than a smartphone and decent internet access? And if I can do it, can’t you do it, too?
That brings us to The Serenity Project—an experiment in winning the wealth-building game. What began as an idle curiosity about an investing app has since become a total outlook transformation. In the two and a half months I’ve been stumbling and praying my way down this path so far, here are some of the pieces that have fallen into place.
Vision (Where do I see myself in the future?): A #whitetrash kid winning the #wealthbuilding game.
Now, I’m not usually one to get too keen on following lifestyle proponents, but I’ve occasionally been intrigued by the idea of people living off of their investments. Since embarking on The Serenity Project this year, I’ve discovered the F.I.R.E. movement: code for Financial Independence, Retire Early. Like really early—in one’s 30s or 40s, for instance, rather than one's mid- to later 60s.
Of course, as a 36-year-old on the oldest possible end of the Millennial spectrum, I’m a bit late to the game… but if the young’ns can see this happen in 10-15 years, why can’t I see it in 10-15 years, too? Can I be financially independent, retiring early, 10 or 15 years from now, by age 50 or so? Suddenly, the more I learn, the more questions open up for me...
- What if becoming a millionnaire isn’t actually that impossible?
- What if I can get to a point of living off my investments, so I can focus on blessing the people around me with my presence, attention, and care, no strings attached?
- What if I can even just reduce my working hours to a flexible part-time schedule that allows me to spend more time in my relationships with others, while embracing a creative, non-competitive, life-giving way of "being" in my everyday interactions, where work is a “want to” instead of a “have to”?
- What if I can leave a legacy of generational wealth, empowerment, and generosity, instead of continuing the curse of poverty and learned helplessness I inherited from my family tree?
Goal (What am I aiming for?): Financial freedom by age 50.
Objectives (What will it take to hit the mark?):
- Invest for future growth and ongoing income
- Increase income for investing and saving
- Aggressively pay off debt to free up cash flow
- Cut expenses while prioritizing quality of life
Visualize Cash Flow (Where is my money coming from and where is it going?)
As a starting point, it’s helpful to get a clear look at the current state, in order to see where you want to go from here. Eyeing the gap between here and financial freedom, this involves listing out...
- Regular income
- Auto loan(s)
- Personal loan(s)
- Credit card debt
- Student loan(s)
- Utilities/insurance/other bills
- Living expenses
Next, you take what’s left and subtract an amount for savings, an amount for extra payments on debt, an amount for investing, an amount for education, an amount for charitable giving, an amount for whatever else your financial goals are at the moment... like a big purchase of a vehicle or an appliance or a new puppy… the point being, basically, that you intentionally assign a job for every dollar you expect to earn throughout the month, budgeting all of your income til you get to zero.
Then, when that money comes in as expected, you direct that money to go out as planned. This way, every dollar has a place to be, serving a purpose in your progress toward accomplishing your goals. It might sound tedious at first, but for me, this has been an immensely satisfying and empowering way to get hold of my spending, all in one spot. Instead of wondering where it all went, I can look at my month and see exactly where it’s all going.
Even though I’ve ditched pretty much everything else I learned from Dave Ramsey (ever since I realized that, for me, quality of life in the present is more valuable than working myself to death for some possible quality of life in the future), I have continued to sit down and write out a zero-based budget every month, for every dollar and every expense, since October of 2014. This process, as simple as it sounds, allows me to visualize the month to come. And when I take this time to be intentional about where my money is going, I can work around my known expenses and see what I’ve got left to work with, as far as saving, investing, and eliminating debt.
That’s just a starting point… stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share about processes that have helped me put my money to work for me, strategies for aggressively tackling debt, and places where I’ve found the most useful information to get me inspired and started on the road to financial freedom.
In the year ahead, I plan to continue writing about my experiences as a beginner investor, using the Stash app to build a portfolio in the stock market. I’m not saying you should do it, too—I’m just gonna try it myself and let you know what happens. I’m learning as I go, so if you’d like to come along for the ride, we’ll be learning together, hopefully doing our small part to turn the tables and win the wealth-building game, for the good of greater society.
Does that sound overly ambitious to you? Maybe we just haven't allowed ourselves to think big enough before.
If you like anything you read here, please share this post with your social media networks to get more people thinking about how we can all start winning the wealth-building game together. Like to connect? Drop me a line or visit on Twitter.